My two favorite things in the world are rap music and basketball. I’m very particular about what I like, so keep that in mind. My favorite rapper of all time is Kanye West. My favorite young rapper is Young Thug. I thought “To Pimp A Butterfly” by Kendrick Lamar was a perfect album, but I have zero interest in ever hearing it again.
I hold the belief that rappers in 2016 are objectively better at rapping than 90’s dudes. When I say better at rapping I mean interesting flows, ability to rhyme multi-syllabic-ally, and an innate skill at having catchy melodies mixed with content that is either intelligent or reflective of a larger societal view.
My favorite basketball team is the Portland Trail Blazers. My favorite player on the Blazers? Damian Lillard. So, when I found out Damian Lillard was making a rap album, I hollered at my Editor-In-Chief-Keef Bobby Mickey, and begged him to let me do a track by track review of Dame’s debut LP “The Letter O”. This is that review.
EXPECTATIONS: Having only seen Lillard rap on “Sway In The Morning” and having heard him rap during a commercial timeout at a Blazer game, I’m expecting the word “lyrical” to be said over 15 times. I’m hoping for some cool basketball references or wordplay “I’m coming with that heat flow/Making it look easy like a free throw”, something about Portland’s fans being the best, and reference to grinding hard to make it out of Oakland.
Track 1 – Bill Walton
I already am skeptical based off the title. Is there any way this song isn’t about winning a championship for Portland like Bill Walton did? Well, the song isn’t ABOUT Walton, but Dame does end this freestyle with a line about Walton.
As far the rapping, Dame does a lot of multis, which is cool. He clearly has a skill to rhyme words. As for the content of the lyrics? Pretty generic. I won’t hold that against him… unless his only thesis on the album is “we didn’t have much when I was a kid and no one believed in me.” The beat was fine–a solid head nod with some 90’s style drums.
Track 2 – Wasatch Front
More 90’s drums! I’m starting to make assumptions about what the sound of this album will be. This track is about Dame’s time at Weber State (where he went to college). It’s a solid narrative, the song doesn’t feel too long, and there’s a chorus. The chorus is alright, too!
There’s still too much talk of struggle for my liking. Still not holding that against Dame though. The unquestioned best part of the song is the ad-libs though. Dame’s ad-libs are like Kent Bazemore on the Golden State bench in 2012. They’re hyped, funny, and positive. More ad-libs, less boring narratives, please!
TRACK 3 – Growth Spurt (feat. Dupre)
808s! Hashtag rapping! This is the best song on the album after 10 seconds, easily. Some dude named Dupre shows up for an alright song. Dame sounds better on the track than Dupre. That’s a good sign. Dame sounds more comfortable on the beat, but maybe I’m just getting used to it? I don’t hate this song.
Also, I haven’t read much of anything about Dame as a rapper, but he’s not cursed once, and I think by track nine he’ll address not needing to swear. “I’m everywhere, you ain’t never there/why would I ever swear?” is my Jay Z lyric flip prediction for not swearing. Three songs in, and the most modern sounding track is my favorite.
TRACK 4 – Misguided
It took four songs, but we finally got Dame to mentioned another NBA player. And, drum roll please… it’s LeBron. And he mentions owning Yeezys. This is definitely Dame’s “I guess the money changed him” song. But Dame is capital R Real, so he’s not gonna forget where he came from.
Portland, we can believe in Damian Lillard. This song is the most interesting, as far as content goes. I found myself actually kinda caring what Dame would say about growing up, getting money, etc. Not shockingly, it’s pretty run of the mill. The saving grace of the song is the tend to see/Tennessee wordplay in the first verse. A third of the way through the album and I think I’ve know what to expect for the rest of it.
TRACK 5 – Thank You (feat. Marsha Ambrosius, Brookfield Deuce, and Danny from Sobrante)
Based off the title and the names of the features, I’ve got low expectations for this. I expect this song to be the Blazers on their third game in four nights, coming off a double overtime loss in Denver. It’s hard to hate on a song for someone’s deceased family members, so I’ll just say this song isn’t for me.
Brookfield Deuce is an alright rapper, he provides us with the second NBA player reference when he alludes to Kobe Bryant! The chorus is fine, I don’t love the woman’s voice, and it’s mixed a little weird that makes it stand out in a not great way. Tonally, this song sounds like a heartfelt Beanie Sigel song from ’02. Dame does TWO verses on this song, so it’s probably the most important song. Verse two has Dame mentioning Hulk Hogan and getting caught drinking by his grandma. Dame wants us to know he’s a good kid.
TRACK 6 – Plans (feat. Jamie Foxx)
Ray Charles himself, Jamie Foxx is featured? This could be interesting! Jamie’s chorus is pretty good. This is clearly Dame’s song for the ladies. He mentions sending an eggplant emoji and a woman’s waist line! Dame is for the ladies! A good juxtaposition after his heartfelt song for his grandmother. Dame is for everyone.
The production is modern again, but the beat certainly doesn’t knock, which shouldn’t be expected. Dame doesn’t exactly rattle the rim with his dunks and the beats on the LP reflect that. Halfway through the album and no swearing, no mentioning his teammates, no mentioning other NBA players who have rapped, and still no cursing! These are things to watch out for on the second half of the album!
TRACK 7 – Legacy (feat. Juvenile and Danny from Sobrante)
I guess at this point my biggest question is, what is Sobrante? And why is Danny, who is from there, on this album twice? I’m not actually going to look up who the dude is though, I’m not getting paid for this. Juvenile of “Back That Azz Up” shows up for a guaranteed emailed-to-Lillard feature here. The inconsistency in the mixing on this song is unpleasant. I like the beat though, AND Dame says “hell” which MIGHT count as cursing? But since we know Dame is a God fearing man, it probably isn’t. Portland is name checked on this song, which is cool because I live in Portland, so now I can relate more to multimillionaire Damian Lillard! I gotta be honest, if this song was just Juvenile and Danny from Sobrante I’d really like it. Dame sounds uninspired and completely extraneous here.
TRACK 8 – Loyal to the Soil (feat. Lil Wayne)
Holy moly this is generic struggle rap. The best part of the song is the Lil Wayne overdub of his lighter sparking. And my goodness, Wayne is so much better at rapping than Dame. Wayne’s flow is sharper and bouncier, his metaphors are more clever, he enunciates words in an interesting way, and he doesn’t swear! Wayne does mention being a Blood though, which is kinda weird and jarring.
I was hoping the way Wayne raps here is how Dame would have rapped on the song, but that’s not the case. Props to Dweezy F. Baby for bringing a quality verse and providing overdubs and ad-libs on Dame’s second chorus! Dame is whatever, by the way.
TRACK 9 – Roll Call (feat. Brookfield Deuce)
I like this beat. I can imagine a Future clone rapping on this. The chorus isn’t catchy, like, even a little bit though. I’m not sure how someone with such a pretty jump shot would have zero ear for melodies, because nothing on this album is catchy. And based off how he raps, you know Dame listens to J Cole and Kendrick Lamar, two guys who are capable of writing mammoth choruses that get stuck in your head instantly. As impressive as Lillard’s ability to string together multis is, when you’re not supplementing it with anything that makes the listener want to hear what else you’re capable of, it might be time to make that LP an EP.
TRACK 10 – Pillow Talk (feat. Manny Lotus)
Sexy flow Dame alert! “I’m feeling that arousement” is the basic idea of the whole song. I will say, it seems a little weird to make a song called “Pillow Talk” when Zayn Malik did it this year and reached Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Again, Dame rapping sexy or about anything that’s not working hard in a small town doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t sound right either.
I appreciate the production on this song, as it sounds more similar to the sort of music I listen to the most. This feels like a Manny Lotus song featuring Dame D.O.L.L.A., which isn’t the best to have on your debut album.
Part of me isn’t sure if Lillard isn’t taking a risks topically because he’s not interested in it or he wants to keep up a good guy Portland image? Regardless, this album’s lack of concepts and subject matter is making it wear pretty thin after only 10 songs. STILL NO SWEARING!
TRACK 11 – Baggage (feat. Adrian Marcel)
Another back half of “The Letter O” song, and another generic R&B chorus that doesn’t fully work. If this song was supposed be a parody of cliche ridden rap I’d love it, but it certainly doesn’t do that at all. In the words of Roman on “Party Down”; “Am I supposed to enjoy the irony, or pity the sincerity?”. Since I’m pretty bored with this song, I’m just gonna imagine what Kristaps Porzingis would sound like on a track. It would be so dope. And I guarantee he’d be a gun rapper. Fuck. I need this to happen now. “I’m seven foot, so you know I bang/after I dunk on you ain’t the only time I can hang”. “Gatvia” by Kristaps Porzingis, coming soon.
TRACK 12 – Hero (feat.Raphael Saadiq) [Bonus Track]
Dame sounds like he yearns on this track; which is actually kinda interesting. This track also has Dame making a handful of basketball references, including Erik Spoelstra and Villanova. Unfortunately, “Hero” also takes the previous track’s generics to a new level. This song is exactly what you’d think a song by a non swearing, basketball player with a song called “Hero” would sound like. Given the ridiculous signing bonuses and endorsement deals that NBA players made in the last two off-seasons, it makes sense that this is a bonus track. It’s unwarranted and unwanted.
STATS: DNP (Coach’s Decision)
After listening to “The Letter O” by Damian Lillard, a few things are clear. Dame’s favorite rapper of all time HAS to be someone whose heyday was in the 90’s. Dame is definitely a basketball player before he’s a rapper. He’s a “real” rapper, not a “real rapper”.
This is most apparent when anyone appears on the track with him. 2016 rap heavyweights Brookfield Deuce, Dupre, Danny from Sobrante, and Lil Wayne do to Dame on a track what anyone does to Dame on defense, which is to say low-key embarrass him. When Lillard raps on a song by himself, it’s fine and cute; however, when going toe to toe with someone who raps for a living rather than as a hobby, a lot is left to be desired.
In summation, the best way to describe Damian Lillard as a rapper, and I say this as objectively as possible, is that he’s the EXACT opposite of Young Thug. Where Thug opts for flows, melodies, and absurdism, Damian Lillard goes for his version of introspective, emotional, and REAL.
I can’t say I’d recommend this album to any of my friends who listen to rap, and I wouldn’t even really recommend it to my friends who don’t like rap. Lillard can ride a beat decently, has above average rhyming ability, but isn’t catchy in the least bit. If Damian Lillard the rapper were a basketball player, he’d be George Hill.
ALBUM STATS: 18pts/4 rbs/4 ast
Jordan Paladino is a Portland comedian, internet troll, rapper, and writer for the show “Who’s the Ross?” He is a staunch defender of all things Lebron James, Drake, and Kanye West. He is also a KD hater. We try not to hold these things against him.